July 4th weekend is upon us… a time to enjoy backyard barbeques, fireworks and the “Star-Spangled Banner”. The three-day weekend celebrating our nation’s birthday is also the deadliest weekend on our country’s roadways. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tracks car crash statistics each year and the Fourth of July nearly always top the list for most deadly accidents, with about half of all accidents related to alcohol. In 2012, (he most recent statistics available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) deadly crashes across the country increased by 3.3% with the most fatalities occurring on July Fourth Weekend, followed by the summertime holidays of Labor Day and Memorial Day.
Driving a car remains one of the riskier behaviors most of us engage in on a regular basis. Traffic accidents remain the #1 killer of children and adults from ages 5 to 34. The good news is that over the past decade we have seen steadily declining rates of fatal accidents, with 2012 marking the first year that traffic fatalities have increased since 2005. Speed limits, child-safety seats, licensing laws, and drunk driving laws have made huge strides in making our roads safer. Due to prevention efforts, deadly traffic accidents are at levels similar to those recorded in the 1950s. Yet there is more to be done. Traffic accidents have proven that they can be prevented, but prevention remains a moving target.
Safe roadways require the cooperation of society as a whole adhering to laws and making safety a priority. Simple measures such as seat belts, speed limits, sober drivers, and motorcycle helmets save lives. When a passenger in the front seat simply straps on a seat belt, they reduce their risk of a death in a crash by up to 50%. Yet, nighttime seat belt use remains a challenge. In 2012, almost two-thirds of the people who died in a nighttime collision were not wearing a seat belt. Despite public awareness, drunk-driving accidents remain on the rise. In 2012, the majority of drunk drivers who died in a crash had blood alcohol concentrations double the legal limit or higher. Alcohol also played a significant role in many fatalities of pedestrians, the majority of which occurred at night in urban areas and at non-intersections. In 2012, motorcycle rider deaths increased for the third year in a row, with ten times as many riders dying unhelmeted in states without universal helmet laws. More people are killed in alcohol-related crashes on weekends and at night, whether in a car or a motorcycle.
In recent years, teen drivers have demonstrated to be in fewer overall accidents and less drunk-driving accidents. However, teenagers are at the greatest risk to be in a deadly accident due to a distracted driver, which is on the rise. Distracted drivers are using smart phones to talk or text while driving which leads to impaired reaction times. Drivers using a mobile phone are four times more likely to be involved in a crash, and hands-free devises have not been shown to be significantly safer than hand-held phones. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is just beginning to identify distraction-related accidents and to identify trends in order to implement prevention strategies.
Prevention of traffic accidents remains an important public health issue in the US. With improved adherence to laws that help minimize our risks, the US has the capability to make our roads ways even safer.
What can you do?
-Use Your Seat Belt Every Trip. Adult seat belt use is the single most effective way to prevent injury and death. Seat belts reduce injuries in collisions by about 50% for front seat passengers and 25-75% for rear-seated passengers. In 2012, 52% of all passengers who died in a car crash were not wearing a seat belt.
-Never Drive Drunk. Drunk driving remains a significant public health threat. In 2012, 31% of fatal accidents involved a drunk driver. Four out of five drunk drivers are men. In 2011, if all adults had a blood alcohol level below the legal limit (.08%), 6,800 lives would have been saved.
Always Wear a Helmet on a Motorcycle. In 2012, in states without universal helmet laws there were 1,858 unhelmeted deadly crashed compared to 178 unhelmeted fatal crashes in states with universal laws despite similar overall populations.
Do not be a distracted driver. Do not talk on the phone or text when driving. In 2012, over 400,000 people were injured in accidents involving distracted drivers. Teenagers under age 20 have the largest proportion of distracted drivers and 11% of all fatal accidents involving teens are the result of a distracted driver.
-Buckle Up Your Children The Right Way. Buckle up children properly in a seat belt, car seat, or booster seat that is appropriate for their age, height and weight. Have all children under 12 ride in the backseat and in the middle of the backseat if possible as it the safest seat in the vehicle.
Have a safe & happy holiday weekend! Happy 4th!!